SPED 8013 | Chapter 21: Extinction

Definition of Extinction I

  • Extinction is a procedure in which reinforcement of a previously reinforced behavior is discontinued; as a result, the frequency of that behavior decreases in the future.

Diagram of Extinction

Definition of Extinction II

  • Extinction is a procedure that provides zero probability of reinforcement
  • The effectiveness of extinction is dependent primarily on the identification of reinforcing consequences and consistent application of the procedure
  • Extinction does not require the application of aversive stimuli to decrease behavior
  • The extinction  procedure does not prevent occurrences of a problem behavior
  • The environment is changed so that the problem behavior will no longer produce the maintaining consequences

 Procedural and Functional Forms of Extinction

  • Procedural forms of extinction involve “ignoring” the problem behavior
  • Functional forms of extinction involve withholding the maintaining reinforcers
  • Applications of the procedural form of extinction are often ineffective
  • When the extinction procedure is matched to the behavioral function, the intervention is usually effective

Misuses of the Term “Extinction”

  1. Using extinction to refer to any decrease in behavior
    • Some use the term extinction when referring to any decrease in response performance, regardless of what produced the behavior change
    • Labeling any reduction in behavior that reaches a zero rate of occurrence as extinction is a common misuse of the term
  2. Confusing forgetting and extinction
    • In forgetting, a behavior is weakened by the passage of time during which the individual does not have an opportunity to emit the behavior
    • In extinction, behavior is weakened because it does not produce reinforcement
  3. Confusing response blocking and sensory extinction
    • Response blocking is not an extinction procedure
    • Response blocking prevents the occurrence of the target behavior
    • With all extinction procedures the individual can emit the problem behavior
  4. Confusing noncontingent reinforcement and extinction
    • Noncontingent reinforcement (NCR) does not withhold reinforcers that maintain the problem behavior
    • Extinction diminishes behavior by changing consequence stimuli; NCR diminishes behavior by changing antecedent stimuli

 Extinction Procedures

  • Extinction of Behavior Maintained by Positive Reinforcement
    • Behaviors maintained by positive reinforcement are placed on extinction when those behaviors do not produce reinforcement
  • Extinction of Behavior Maintained by Negative Reinforcement
    • Behaviors maintained by negative reinforcement are placed on extinction (escape extinction) when those behaviors do not produce a removal of the aversive stimulus
    • The individual cannot escape from the aversive situation
  • Extinction of Behavior Maintained by Automatic Reinforcement
    • Behaviors maintained by automatic reinforcement are placed on extinction by masking or removing the sensory consequence (sensory extinction)
    • Not a recommended treatment option for problem behavior that is maintained by social consequences or negative reinforcement (even stereotypy often is maintained by these consequences)

Extinction Effects

  • Extinction effects have not been documented clearly in applied settings
  • Practitioners should view all of the following comments on extinction effects tentatively when they relate to behavioral interventions or applied research
  • Gradual Decrease in Frequency and Amplitude
    • Extinction produces a gradual reduction in behavior
    • However, when reinforcement is removed abruptly, numerous unreinforced responses can follow
  • Extinction Burst
    • An immediate increase in the frequency of the response after the removal of the positive, negative, or automatic reinforcement
    • “An increase in responding during any of the first three treatment sessions above that observed during all of the last five baseline sessions or all of baseline” (Lerman, Iwata, and Wallace, 1999).
  • Problem behaviors can worsen during extinction before they show improvement
  • Extinction bursts usually suggest that the reinforcer(s) maintaining the problem behavior was successfully identified, indicating that there is a good chance of an effective intervention (if you can ride it out!)
  • Initial Increase in Amplitude
    • Increase in the force of the response–louder, stronger, more intense
    • Similar to extinction burst
  • Spontaneous Recovery
    • The behavior that diminished during the extinction process recurs even though the behavior does not produce reinforcement
    • Short-lived and limited if the extinction procedure remains in effect

Variables Affecting Resistance to Extinction

  • Resistance to extinction
    • Continued responding during the extinction process
    • Behavior that continues to occur during extinction is said to have better resistance to extinction than behavior that diminishes more quickly
    • How does this relate to maintenance?
  • Three tentative statement describing resistance to extinction as it relates to continuous and intermittent reinforcement:
    • A) Intermittent reinforcement may produce behavior with greater resistance to extinction than the resistance produced by continuous reinforcement
    • B) Some intermittent schedules may produce more resistant behavior than others
      • Variable schedules
    • C) To a degree, the thinner the intermittent schedule of reinforcement is the greater the resistance to extinction will be
  • Establishing Operations
    • All stimuli that function as reinforcers require a minimum level of an establishing operation (i.e., motivation must be present)
    • “Resistance to extinction is greater when extinction is carried out under high motivation than under low” (Keller & Schoenfeld, 1950/1995, p.75)
  • Number, Magnitude, and Quality of Reinforcement
    • The number of times a behavior produces reinforcement may influence resistance to extinction
    • A behavior with a long history of reinforcement may have more resistance to extinction than a behavior with a shorter history of reinforcement
    • How much reinforcement comes with each reinforced response
    • The quality of the reinforcement that comes with each reinforced response
  • Number of Previous Extinction Trials
    • Successive applications of conditioning and extinction may influence the resistance to extinction
    • Behavior may diminish more quickly, with fewer total responses, during a reapplication
  • Response Effort
    • The effort required for a response apparently influences its resistance to extinction
      • A response requiring great effort diminishes more quickly during extinction than a response requiring less effort

10 Guidelines for the Application of Extinction

  1. Withholding all reinforcers maintaining the problem behavior
  2. Withholding reinforcement consistently
  3. Combining extinction with other procedures
  4. Using instructions
  5. Planning for extinction-produced aggression
  6. Increasing the number of extinction trials
  7. Including significant others in extinction
  8. Guarding against unintentional extinction
  9. Maintaining extinction-decreased behavior
  10. When not to use extinction

Using Extinction Effectively

  • Guideline 1: Withholding all reinforcers maintaining the problem behavior
    • First step in using extinction effectively is to identify and withhold all possible sources of reinforcement that maintain the target behavior
  • Guideline 2: Withholding reinforcement consistently
    • All behavior change procedures require consistent application, but consistency is essential for extinction
    • Consistency is the single most difficult aspect in using extinction
  • Guideline 3: Combining extinction with other procedures
    • The effectiveness of extinction may increase when it is combined with other procedures
    • Differential reinforcement and antecedent procedures (e.g. EO manipulation) hold promise for reducing extinction effects such as bursting and aggression
  • Guideline 4: Using instructions
    • Behavior sometimes diminishes more quickly during extinction when the extinction procedure is described
    • Makes it easier to discriminate
  • Guideline 5: Planning for extinction produced aggression
    • Behaviors that occurred infrequently in the past sometimes become prominent during extinction by replacing problem behaviors. Frequently, these side effect replacement behaviors are aggressive (Lerman, et al. 1999)
  • Guideline 6: Increasing the number of extinction trials
    • An extinction trial occurs each time the behavior does not produce reinforcement
    • Whenever possible, applied behavior analysts should increase the number of extinction trials for the problem behavior
  • Guideline 7: Including Significant Others in Extinction
    • It is important that other persons in the environment not reinforce undesirable behavior
    • All individuals in contact with the learner must apply the same extinction procedure for effective treatment
  • Guideline 8: Guarding against unintentional extinction
    • Desirable behaviors are often unintentionally placed on extinction
    • It is common practice to give the most attention to problems (the squeaky wheel gets the grease) and to ignore situations that are going smoothly
  • Guideline 9: Maintaining extinction decreased behavior
    • Applied behavior analysts leave the extinction procedure in effect permanently for maintaining the extinction diminished behavior
    • In some cases (sensory) a fading procedure can be used
  • Guideline 10: When not to use extinction procedures
    • Imitation
      • Extinction can be inappropriate if the behavior placed on extinction is likely to b imitated by others
    • Extreme Behaviors
      • Some behaviors are so harmful to self or others or so destructive to property that they must be controlled with the most rapid and humane procedure available
      • Extinction as a singular intervention is not recommended in such situations